If you are among the millions of people who have read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, then you are already familiar with the general format of 31 Days to Masculinity, (paid link) a comprehensive guide to help men live more authentic lives by Hunter Drew.
The premise is simple, the book is anything but.
You are going to go through a chapter a day without looking ahead to what is coming next. Each day there is a reflection on some aspect of masculinity, and challenges to perform based on those reflections.
The format is not too different from The Purpose Driven Life, but the content is not quite the same.
Each day includes a physical challenge (hint: it’s a lot of pushups) and usually a mental challenge, though there are several additional physical challenges thrown in the mix.
The mental challenges are meant to be difficult and force you to confront and challenge some long-held assumptions you might have internalized for decades.
They force you to think about yourself, how you think, how you treat those you love, how you approach your life, and how you view your place in the world.
Some of the challenges include physical calls to action. For example, on one of the days you are asked to break out of your routine and do something fun that is different than the usual with your family. Sounds simple, but it may not be for those who are stuck in certain familiar routines.
I was fortunate enough to do my 31 Days as part of a group for the December of Discipline campaign. This gave me extra accountability with a group of men who started the program at the same time as I did.
There are several rules for the 31 days:
- No masturbation
- No porn
- 100 pushups per day (though that number does go up)
- Start reading a book
- Start giving genuine answers to people in your regular life
- Start to remove a vice from your life
- One chapter a day. Do not skip ahead.
This will not be an exhaustive review of 31 Days to Masculinity. I’d rather not give too much away, and let you experience it on your own. Instead, I will offer a few reflections on my experiences in December.
Reflections on 31 Days to Masculinity
Day 1 starts the month with a goal setting exercise where we wrote down 3 short term and 3 long-term goals. This was more challenging than expected because we were also asked to include three roadmap actions for each goal. It’s easy to say “here are my goals;” it’s a different story when you must articulate how you are going to get there. This means our goals must be actionable.
This focus on action sets the tone for the rest of the month.
We are not here to talk.
We are here to act.
Acts non verba.
Setting goals without a plan to achieve them is just a form of mental masturbation meant to make us feel good about ourselves. It is not action. Several times throughout the 31 Days we review those goals and the progress we are making. This accountability to ourselves is so important.
I have rarely been challenged in body, mind, and spirit like I was during these 31 days.
The pushups, which for me were the easiest part, actually got tedious by the last week. I started dreading each up and down, and by the end of the month each set was an interminable slog of mental torture.
I vowed to myself at the beginning to be completely honest with myself and with the other men doing the challenge at all times.
Some of the challenges brought me to dark places.
From confronting how I treat my finances and my time, to being asked to spend time completely alone, to reflecting on grudges I hold and being asked to let them go, to reflecting on my own mortality, each day carried a new angle that forced me to look deep inside myself, and have the kinds of uncomfortable internal conversations that we usually try to avoid or self-censor.
Some days were not easy.
Some days I didn’t want to think about certain topics, and I certainly didn’t want to reflect on and write about them.
I did it anyway.
One of the most difficult parts of it was the frequent negative visualization exercises. While I have performed positive visualization as a way of preparing for sports games, I had never performed negative visualization before. During these exercises, I visualized all kinds of bad and horrific things befall my wife and kids.
As was stated in the book, “In order to truly appreciate what you have, you must lose it.”
I was forced to confront the loss of everything dear to me day after day.
And it sucked.
But, I realize it was necessary.
And after the day’s exercise was over, I gained back everything dear to me.
I can say that after all these negative visualization exercises, I truly started to appreciate the life I have much more than ever, and my love for those in it increased even more.
I realized that I have taken so much for granted and I have failed on most occasions to appreciate the life I have and the people in it.
This is one exercise that I am continuing to do even after the 31 Days, albeit on a more infrequent basis.
The book is meant to truly challenge all the men who go through it. It is meant to be hard. Some will not be able to last more than a few days before saying “Fuck This,” and quitting to crawl back sheepishly into their comfort zones.
In order to become more authentic men, however, we have to overcome and shatter our comfort zones into pieces.
All of them.
In this instance, comfort is our enemy.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Comfort” as “the pleasant and satisfying feeling of being physically or mentally free from pain and suffering.”
In short, when we live in our comfort zones we live in a pleasant place free from any form of pain or suffering.
Is this really a place conducive for personal growth?
No, it’s not.
We all know that it is in the struggle where we truly experience growth.
Catholic tradition includes the concept of “The Dark Night of the Soul,” that spiritual crisis and periods of darkness Catholics believe is necessary and inevitable for those on their path towards union with God. This Dark Night” was experienced by many of those now venerated as Saints, most notably by St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Likewise, the classic “Hero’s Journey” is a narrative arc that traditionally includes a protagonist (the hero) who goes on some kind of adventure away from home, experiences a crisis situation, and ultimately wins a victory and returns home transformed into a better version of himself. If you read books or watch television, you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey, even if you’ve never called it by name.
In the struggle, we achieve growth.
To grow, we need to break free out of our comfort zones, and 31 Days to Masculinity forces us to do that.
I can say without hesitation that since going through it, I am living more authentically; and certain weights that I’ve carried on my shoulders for years are now lighter.
I confronted myself.
I eliminated negativity.
I broke down walls that artificially existed in some relationships.
Just Do It
To truly understand the program, you have to go through it yourself. It is not a book to simply read. You must immerse yourself in it, and you must experience it.
If you do not want to go through it alone, there is a dedicated channel inside the Fraternity of Excellence to get the program for free and it includes accountability with other men doing it as well.
I encourage you to sign up for the Fraternity of Excellence, an online brotherhood of men who challenge each other daily. There are very few male-only spaces left where men can work with another, challenge one another, and support one another, and this is one of them.
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